Snow White & The Huntsman Blu-ray Review - Recommended

Kevin EK

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Snow White & The Huntsman ferries its tale onto Blu-ray, with a muscular presentation that includes a solid HD picture transfer and a DTS-HD MA 7.1 sound mix, along with a fair amount of special features.  This is the second movie in 2012 to address the Snow White story, and it’s an epic undertaking.  It’s got plenty of interesting ideas to keep an audience’s attention (even if the key one is lifted from a superior John Boorman film), and some surprising casting choices in the supporting roles.   In the lead role, Kristen Stewart doesn’t show much of a range, but she does throw herself into multiple action scenes with an admirable level of enthusiasm.  At the same time, Charlize Theron pretty much devours the screen in the role of Queen Ravenna.  There’s a tremendous amount of CGI work here, but also a satisfying amount of real location shooting in the UK to ground the movie.  It’s too long by about 15 minutes, but there’s enough interesting material to merit that it be Recommended, at least for a rental.




SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN

Studio: Universal/Roth Films

Year: 2012

Length: 2 hrs 8 mins (Theatrical Version), 2 hrs 12 mins (Extended Version)

Genre:  Action/Adventure/Sword and Sorcery/Medieval Fantasy


Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 25 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps up to 5.6 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Film Rating:  PG-13 (Intense Sequences of Violence, Action, Brief Sensuality), Unrated  Version just has 4 more minutes of the same…


Release Date:  September 11, 2012


Starring:   Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones


Screen Story by:  Evan Daugherty

Screenplay by:  Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini

Directed by: Rupert Sanders


Film Rating: 3/5



“You will be the land and the land will be you.

If you fail, the land will perish; As you thrive, the land will blossom.”

-Merlin in Excalibur (1981)


Before I get into the specifics about the movie, we’ll just cut to the chase for the readers who would prefer to move on to the technical details.  Snow White & The Huntsman is a fairly effective, large-scale entertainment.  The movie presents a medieval adventure take on the story of Snow White, one that stands in contrast both to the classic Disney animated version and to this year’s Mirror, Mirror.   In the case of the new film, director Rupert Sanders gives us a Snow White (Kristen Stewart) with dirt under her fingernails and a suit of armor rather than a pretty blue dress.  This Snow White learns to be a fighter after the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, happily stealing pretty much every scene she’s in) takes over the kingdom and everything is laid to waste.  The movie is a bit too long, and the supporting cast is a lot more interesting than the leads (neither Stewart nor Chris Hemsworth register as much more than athletic and attractive), but the sheer sweep of the adventure and the ambitious scale make this a movie that I’m happy to recommend at least as a rental.   It’s by no means a classic, but it’s trying to scratch a little deeper than your typical summer epic.  Of course, we need to take a minute to understand from where it’s getting its primary inspiration.


SPOILERS:  There’s something very familiar about the medieval landscape of Snow White & The Huntsman.  This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s quite interesting, particularly in how the rules of this world mimic those of the movie on which it takes its primary inspiration.  When you look at the world of the movie, you see an iconic story being interpreted in fairly realistic terms, shot in picturesque UK locations, using camera tricks both advanced and old, playing a sword and sorcery fantasy steeped in the mud and blood of the real world.  Back in 1981, this was the situation with John Boorman’s Excalibur, which not only reinterpreted the story of King Arthur in a bloodier and more realistic manner but also provided a template for future medieval-set adventures.  This was certainly the case with many films, including Kenneth Branaugh’s Henry V, and its influence continues through to the present day.  And if it were only the style and setting that resembled the earlier film, I would not spend this time examining it.  But Snow White & The Huntsman lifts something more intrinsic out of the earlier film, finding an application here that I believe works just as well.  That is to say, the new movie graphically shows that the land of a king (or queen) is tied to the ruler, so that it flourishes under a good ruler and dies under a failing or bad one.  This is not a small matter – it’s central to a proper understanding of what is going on in both films. 


MORE SPOILERS:   From the moment that Queen Ravenna takes over the kingdom, much of the color leaches out of the picture, and things settle to a kind of dull gray mush for quite some time, with the exception of the hard gold of Ravenna’s infamous talking Mirror spirit.  This isn’t a bad thing – it’s establishing that the land is literally rejecting the evil Queen, in much the same way that the land rebels in Excalibur during Arthur’s illness and Mordred’s foul reign.  And it is in this world that Snow White grows to womanhood.  In her first foray out of her high prison, we experience this world through her eyes – in its sheer grimness.  But as she begins to affect the people and things around her, color starts to come back into the palette.  One scene in the Enchanted Forest, about midway through the film, suddenly presents a spray of eye-popping hues as Snow White encounters the White Stag – a moment that is a foreshadowing of the way the land will be if Snow White can defeat the Queen and take the throne.  (Some reviewers have misinterpreted this scene as being incongruous with the rest of the movie, without realizing the intention behind it.)   Once Snow White is crowned as the Queen, we once again see color filling the throne room, as her dress begins to resemble something like the animated character from Disney, and her subjects dress in a variety of brighter colors.   The point behind all this is to show that the land and the people need a good person to lead them – and the reintroduction of color underscores the notion, as it did in a signature shot of Excalibur where we see the flowers bloom anew as Arthur rides into battle one last time.


MORE SPOILERS:  A note should be made about the dwarves here.  Most viewers will be familiar with the notion of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, as made famous by the Disney movie for the funny and silly characters with names like Happy, Grumpy and Sneezy.  Here we are presented with a motley crew indeed.  It’s interesting to see that they’ve cast a kind of rogues’ gallery of British movie gangsters, including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Ray Winstone.   (There’s an interesting contrast here – in that the dwarves all speak in the lower level British dialects while the leads speak in a version of the upper class Standard Received – but this is in tune with the notion that the older gangster types are played here as the fighting dwarves.)  And the dwarves here are anything but cute and cuddly – they’re actually pretty effective fighters, some using axes to chop down taller characters.  And initially there are eight – it’s only when one is killed that they take on their familiar number of seven.  There’s been some controversy over the fact that little people were not used entirely for these parts, but watching the movie, it’s clear that Sanders wanted to have these guys play the parts for the callbacks to earlier films like Sexy Beast and The Long Good Friday, and he wanted to play more of the idea of having these guys’ faces on the characters than trying to cast it another way.  Further, he cast little people to play alongside the larger actors as well, so it’s not like anyone lost any work over this.  My own reaction to the idea is that it initially looks a little odd but the viewer settles into it fairly quickly when you see one of these guys swinging an axe at someone.


The overall impression of the movie is that it’s a large scale adventure that packs a punch when it works, and that’s more often than not during a running time that is too long by somewhere around 15 minutes.  For the ambition in telling this story in this manner, and for a few very interesting visual choices that pop up at regular intervals throughout, I’m happy to Recommend this movie for at least a rental, so that curious viewers can give it a chance.  This isn’t the most original movie ever made, but it makes effective use of the materials it has on hand.


Two versions of the movie are included on the Blu-ray:  There’s the theatrical version and an unrated cut that runs about 4 minutes longer but doesn’t have anything that jarred me out of the PG-13 mode of the rest of the film.  (This isn’t a situation like Robin Hood where you have footage that would effectively move the rating to an R.)


Snow White & The Huntsman has been released on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD last Tuesday. The Blu-ray has the movie in high definition picture and sound, along with a generous collection of extras.  The Blu-ray package includes the DVD, which holds a pair of the same extras.  An insert provides the code for obtaining Ultraviolet or Digital copies of the movie.  The usual pocket BLU and BD-Live functionality is also included.




VIDEO QUALITY  5/5


Snow White & The Huntsman is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that, like the one provided to Battleship, is pretty much flawless.  This is another big, expensive movie, and it shows.  The UK locations look spectacular, as does the frequent use of CGI to both expand the landscape and to place impossible characters and transformations within it.  The color palette is limited for much of the film, but the transfer is not.  This is top-notch technical work, and it’s a pleasure to watch.




AUDIO QUALITY  5/5


Snow White & The Huntsman is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that fills the home theater with plenty of atmospheric and directional sound, as well as James Newton Howard’s music.  Given the medieval period and the amount of sheer action on display, there’s plenty for the sound mix, the surrounds and the subwoofer to do here.  In addition to the high definition audio, there are Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks, and an English DVS track.




SPECIAL FEATURES   4/5


The Blu-ray presentation of Snow White & The Huntsman comes with a very generous pile of special features, almost all of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray also includes the usual BD-Live, pocket BLU and bookmarking functionality, as well as D-Box for viewers who have that ability.  The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD as well as an insert with the code for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie.  My only issue here has to do with the continuing stickiness of the Second Screen function.


My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.


BD Live – The usual Blu-ray online functionality is present, allowing the viewer to access trailers and other bonus content through the Universal portal.


D-Box – This functionality is present for those viewers who have this capability in their home theaters.


pocket BLU – The Universal application for smartphones and tablets is present here, allowing the viewer to use their device as an effective remote, and to access some of the bonus content through that device.  A digital copy of the movie can be downloaded via this app.  Several of the featurettes can be accessed independently via pocket BLU, if you wish to view them on your tablet or smartphone rather than on the television screen.  pocket BLU is also the gateway to the Second Screen functionality:


            Second Screen – Content is available via your tablet or laptop, using the pocket BLU app, and selecting the Second Screen option.  Once you activate it, you’ll see a timeline for the movie’s chapters and other content running horizontally across the bottom of your device.  The content mostly derives from the PIP U-Control material I’ll discuss below.  Unlike Battleship, where that material was tied to the “All Access” idea, this release has the PIP content in the much more easily accessible U-Control format.  There is also an option to view flip books of various locations and storyboards.  Another feature is the 360° Set View, which is actually an effective way of seeing a panaromic photo view of the various sets available in the separate feature of this.  If you click on various icons in the photo, you’ll be taken to various quick interviews with appropriate cast members.  Finally, there is a Cast of Characters option which displays screens for various characters in the movie.  So there’s a lot of stuff here to play with.  But once again, as we’ve seen with other releases, it just doesn’t sync up very well with a tablet.  Theoretically, you should be able to control the movie from your tablet, laptop or smart phone, and you should be able to move back and forth through various PIP segments, carrying you to different parts of the movie.  But none of this works correctly as tested wth an iPad last night.  The content can be accessed, but the movie continues to play on in complete oblivion while you’re trying to watch the clips on the tablet.  Further, the “Flick View” idea does not work at all at this juncture, so repeatedly trying to “flick” the image onto the HDTV has no effect.



U-Control  (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is a collection of PIP Behind the Scenes material, including some interview and clip selections that also appear in the various featurettes on the disc.  As usual with U-Control, you can select the icon above the appropriate chapter and be taken to the PIP clip for that scene.  There’s some good stuff here, usually presented in counterpoint to the chapter filling the rest of the screen.


Feature Commentary with Director Rupert Sanders, VFX Supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and Co-Editor Neil Smith  (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific group commentary covers a lot of ground as the men discuss which elements of various shots are real and which were added with CGI.  There’s a fair amount of discussion of the story of the movie and of the performances of the various cast members.  The one thing I truly missed here, and I may simply not have been listening to the right sections, was an acknowledgement of the impact of John Boorman on this film.  The thematic material between the films is too similar to be able to avoid discussing Excalibur and I would have thought that Sanders could have taken a moment to mention it.  This commentary is available both on the theatrical and extended versions of the movie.


A New Legend is Born (20:53, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is the only other special feature that the Blu-ray shares with the DVD.  It’s a fairly general featurette that includes interview material with all the principals and plenty of on-set video.  If anything, the featurette clarifies that the movie was shot on film, that it was shot in many real locations, and that Rupert Sanders has a way with epic battle scenes with lots of stuntmen.


Reinventing the Fairy Tale (6:07, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette focuses on the original script by Evan Daugherty and how it evolved into the script that was actually produced by Joe Roth and directed by Sanders.  There’s a bit of discussion of the original Snow White story and how the character of the Huntsman was elevated from a minor appearance to the co-lead of this movie.


Citizens of the Kingdom (1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) –  There are four featurettes under this heading, each dealing with a different cast member or group.  Much of this material is also found in the PIP segments.  This material is all presented in high definition.


            Fairest of Them All: Snow White (5:38) – This featurette focuses on Kristen Stewart and her enthusiasm for performing her own fights and stunts.  One good moment mentioned is where Stewart actually punched out Chris Hemsworth during a staged fight.  (According to all involved, that hit is actually in the movie…)


            Deliciously Evil: Queen Ravenna (5:36) – This featurette focuses on Charlize Theron and her approach to her character.  She of course plays the character not as consciously evil but more selfish than anything else.


            The Huntsman (5:04) – This featurette covers Chris Hemsworth, who discusses the amount of stunts he performs, including multiple fight scenes and some horseback work.  He also discusses his work to keep this role from being another variation of Thor.


            Motley Crew: The Dwarves (6:42) – This featurette gets into the dwarves and the various people cast to fill the roles.  There’s some good interview footage with Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones about the characters, and we are introduced to the little people cast alongside the taller name actors.



The Magic of Snow White & The Huntsman (13:23, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the extensive VFX work done for the movie, going through everything from location extensions to character creation.  Of course, the amount of CGI belies the stories told in the other featurettes about how Rupert Sanders did as much of the work as possible through on-set in-camera tricks.  He certainly did  that, but the sheer amount of CGI in the film clarifies that the tool was openly embraced, not avoided.


Around the Kingdom:  360° Set Tour (1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is another heading under which multiple featurettes or options can be found.  The whole thing starts with a 1:40 introduction by Rupert Sanders, and then the various submenus are opened up.  With each submenu, you have the ability to watch a scrolling panaromic photo view of each set.  The problem is that you can’t control the pan – once it starts, you’re on the ride until it stops.  This is an example of something that probably works better as a tablet or laptop app than as a DVD feature.


            King Magnus’ Courtyard


            Village Near Castle Tabor


            Duke Hammond’s Castle Encampment


            Queen Ravenna’s Throne Room


            Queen Ravenna’s Mirror Room



DVD (480p Copy of the movie, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound @ 448 kbps) – The DVD release of the movie is included in the package.  Both versions of the movie are presented in standard definition picture and sound (with English, French and Spanish DD 5.1 and the English DVS track), along with the commentary and the “A New Legend is Born” featurette.


Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging includes an insert with a code for getting a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie.  The copy must be streamed or downloaded by April 30, 2017.


Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.



IN THE END...


Snow White & The Huntsman is an interesting movie to watch, not for the performances of the lead actors, but for the visual imagination of director Rupert Sanders and the effective use of themes derived from earlier films, particularly the work of John Boorman.  It’s a bit too long, but there are plenty of effective moments to keep the viewer’s interest.  Given the solid HD picture and sound, and the generous complement of extra features, I’m happy to recommend the title, at least as a rental.  Just watch out for the stickiness of the Second Screen option.


Kevin Koster

September 17, 2012.



Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at ISF Night Mode

            -set professionally calibrated by Dave Abrams of Avical, June 2012

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer

 

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